Creating networks for sustainable development in the rainforest: our five year journey

2018 is the last year of our 5 year pilot program: Future Leaders. What began as a dream to protect a strategically important piece of forested land in the Las Piedras watershed in Peru, has grown into a network of like-minded professionals working to draw attention to the value of forests and providing ways for people to engage in conservation and sustainable development.

Future Leaders as they end their time in the forest
Future Leaders group

Those with a hand in planning the program went into 2018 with a full heart knowing how far we’ve come since year one. While there were some challenges, the rewards were much greater: seeing a growing network of young environmental leaders passionate and empowered to create a more sustainable future in this beautiful and biodiverse part of the world.

Soon, these talented leaders will be achieving their dreams and putting their own sustainable business projects into action to protect the rainforest and its communities. Some already are. So what better time to take a look back at this incredible journey?

Why Madre de Dios, Peru?

The Madre de Dios region is particularly special in terms of biodiversity and culture, as it is home not just to a range of fantastic wildlife, but also a number of indigenous communities that rely heavily on natural resources.

WildFF’s ARCAmazon Project Site in Madre de Dios, Peru
Las Piedras watershed, Madre de Dios, Peru

Sadly, this area is under great threat from illegal logging, resource extraction (gold and oil) and unsustainable development, which is dominating jobs and economic opportunity. As a result, local youth have few options to build or work towards a sustainable economy. This made it a logical choice for our Future Leaders program, giving us the chance to support the many local youth who are eager to improve their communities by providing the resources and connections they need to make significant and sustainable change.

5 years, 5 summits

The curriculum for the Future Leaders program was designed to encourage sustainable business innovation and empower young people in the Madre de Dios area, who are often excluded from political decision-making. In the first year of the program, we engaged 15 youth with educational sessions on local geography, tropical forest ecology, wildlife conservation, conducting market research, managing business budgets, leadership and teamwork.

Since then, the network has grown to 46 young Peruvian leaders, including economists, lawyers, social activists, students, renewable energy professionals and even the President of a local rainforest community currently under threat from resource extraction. Over the last five years, they’ve been on many adventures into the jungle to learn about tropical ecology and conservation, developed a 2050 vision for Madre de Dios, created project plans and marketing strategies to advance sustainable development in the area, and presented their own sustainable business plans to a judging panel.

Future Leaders working together
Future Leaders working together

future leaders summit 5

January 14-18, 2018, the dedicated network of young innovators visited the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon with our educators for a final summit. This year, the program focused on consolidating the skills and knowledge the leaders have developed over the past five years and empowering them to put their own business initiatives into action. One of the main activities this year was the storytelling challenge, where participants had to develop a marketing campaign for Peruvian and international audiences to showcase the biological and cultural importance of the Madre de Dios area.

There was also an element of cross-cultural exchange, as the Peruvian participants worked (and relaxed!) with students from McDaniel College, Maryland’s Forest Online class. Forest Online was created to tell the world the story of the rainforest, to connect them to this beautiful and special place, and to inspire collective action and support to protect it from the threats it faces. Although the class has been running for two years, this is the first time that the students worked with the Future Leaders to bring the story of Madre de Dios to life.

McDaniel College Forest Online class
McDaniel College Forest Online class

Excitingly, many of our returning participants have their own business initiatives, which the program is helping them make a reality. Grupo Amable is a bicycle touring company encouraging people to spend time in nature and travel more sustainably in the Madre de Dios region. Shiwi sells products such as hazelnut and coconut oil, made sustainably and with local ingredients from the rainforest. Nimel Scrap & LK is an event catering business that uses only local ingredients, and its founders also make and sell stationary, cards and personalised photo albums. We couldn’t be more proud of how far the Future Leaders have come, or more excited to watch their businesses grow and see them take part in future social good initiatives.

Grupo Amable
Grupo Amable
Shiwi selling local products sourced sustainably from the Amazon
Shiwi – selling local products sourced sustainably from the Amazon

Stay tuned to hear more about Future Leaders Summit 5 in our next blog post!


About the Author

Joanna Trewern

Joanna Trewern

Communications Intern 2016-present

Joanna is half English, half Spanish, and is a recent graduate from Oxford University’s School of Geography & the Environment, where she studied an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. She believes it’s important not just to protect biodiversity, but to make this goal relevant and beneficial to local people in order to ensure lasting success. She fell in love with the Amazon Rainforest after a visit to Peru in 2015, where she stayed for a year volunteering in wildlife rehabilitation centres (even though she was only meant to stay for two months!). In her free time she enjoys activities that allow her to be in nature, like hiking and longboarding.

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